Welcome To My House: UD Arena Welcomes Bonaventure Fans With Open Arms

Steve Miller
Sports Editor

Greatness is much easier to appreciate when it’s not pitted against you. Dayton basketball fans biannually resent the greatness of St. Bonaventure’s gritty guard play. St. Bonaventure fans think likewise of UD Arena’s electric atmosphere to which their team is subject each season.

Fate was generous to both parties Tuesday when the Bonnies were backed by the same arena that usually boos, marching to a 65-58 victory over UCLA in the First Four in Dayton. St. Bonaventure, one of three Atlantic 10 teams participating in the NCAA Tournament, rode overwhelming fan support from both traveling Bonnies and local UD fans alike to advance to the Round of 64.

The arena advantage reached full manifestation in the waning minutes as Bonaventure pulled away, but the stars had been aligned well before the climactic win.

“We’re not playing Dayton,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said giddily at a press conference Monday.

“I know that since we’re playing in an Atlantic 10 arena, we know that we’ll have a lot of fan support, not just from the Bonnies but from the Dayton people. So it should be a good night. It should be a great environment.”

“We’re not going to have people booing us all night. We’re not going to have a student body that’s yelling at me. We’re going to have a lot of people that are going to be on our side.”

St. Bonaventure fans travelling well to UD Arena.

Flyer fans, enjoying one last round of basketball at their home venue this spring, were happy to take sides with the Bonnies. Success for St. Bonaventure — a private, Catholic, A-10 school in Olean, New York — means added respect for the conference — something from which the Flyers can only benefit.

“It’s huge. It sets the stage for the future,” said Red Scare president Michael Oliver, a sophomore UD student.

“We cheer for everything at Dayton. We have so much pride in what we do. The A-10 is such a great conference to be in. It’s awesome for them to be on our court. It’s our home court, we own it, but they get a chance tonight to show what they can do.”
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Stockard (11) finished with a team-high 26 points and four rebounds in 40 minutes.

In a Twitter poll put out Tuesday for UD fans watching the First Four, 34 of 37 respondents answered that they’d be pulling for the Bonnies over the Bruins.

“Normally I’m jabbing at them, trying to get in their heads. But today I’m rooting for them,” Oliver said. “We do all we can do to help out a fellow A-10 team.”

Not only did local fans generate momentous support for St. Bonaventure, but the Bonnies’ own flocked from the surrounding cities and states to motivate the team to their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1970.

“I grew up in the town of Olean. I rooted for them my whole life,” said fan Mike Bailey, who drove to Dayton from Mt. Vernon, Ohio. “My first memories of a basketball team were of St. Bonaventure.”

Coupled with the herd of fans who live within driving distance of Dayton, which itself is less than six hours from Olean, came a contingent of students on buses funded by the school’s alumni association.

“A couple hours [after the selection show], Bonaventure came out with a bus plan and tickets,” said student Maggie Cole, who said she attends every single home game on campus. “The alumni paid for three buses and two buses full of student tickets.”

“I think it’s really impressive that we made it here and that we have fans around here that can come to this game.”

Once at UD Arena, Bonaventure fans were warmly met by locals with now-similar rooting interests.

“We had a lot of people say ‘You better win, go Bonnies! We want you to win.’ It’s been positive so far,” said Dave Korodi, a Bonaventure fan from Marietta, Ohio.

“A lot of Dayton fans came up to us and said ‘We’re rooting for Bonaventure’,” said Stephen McGuire, a 1988 graduate of the school, who now hails from Columbus, Ohio.

“It’s gonna feel like a home game.”

McGuire’s prediction rang true from the moment the Bruins and Bonnies were introduced to the jubilation following the final buzzer.

The relatively-pithy fragment of UCLA fans in attendance were no match for the roaring Bonaventure faithful.

“It felt like the Reilly Center all over again,” Schmidt said after his team’s victory, in which they forced 20 UCLA turnovers. “We had great support from the Bonaventure people that came down. Great support from the community of Dayton. And we just beat UCLA.”
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The victory over the Bruins, specifically, was significant.

In 1970, St. Bonaventure’s star player Bob Lanier suffered an injury in the regional final of the NCAA Tournament, which kept him sidelined for the Final Four. The Bonnies lost to Jacksonville, costing them a shot at a National Championship versus John Wooden’s UCLA team.

Until Tuesday, they had never won another NCAA Tournament game.

“That’s the greatest team that’s ever played,” Schmidt said of the 1970 squad he has heard so much about during his 11-year as the Bonnies’ head coach.

“And for our guys to be able to go out and play a great UCLA team and beat them, to me, hopefully that helps the disappointment back in 1970.”

“Bonaventure is a unique, special place. It’s a special place, and it has a great basketball tradition.”

The Bonnies deserved, then, a special place to cherish their first tournament victory in 48 years. And what better place is there than the University of Dayton Arena, the host of more NCAA Tournament games than any other venue, a mecca of college hoops, and a home willing to turn a foe into a friend?

Schmidt said, “I’m thankful for the Dayton fans for what they did.”

Photo Taken by Griffin Quinn/Staff Photographer